In the do-or-die match for the last ticket to the Final Four, the DLSU Green Archers fell to the FEU Tamaraws, 70-71, earlier today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. With the win, the Tamaraws secured a playoff against the ADMU Blue Eagles, who have a twice-to-beat advantage.
Arvin Tolentino spearheaded the Tamaraws to their sixth straight Final Four appearance, recording 15 points, five rebounds, and two steals, followed by Kevin Eboña, who tallied 12 points and 16 rebounds.
In the losing effort, Leonard Santillan was dominant on both ends of the floor as he led the Green Archers with 20 points and six rebounds. Aljun Melecio and Andrei Caracut also chipped in nine points each.
Grit and determination
At the start of the opening frame of the fixture, both teams continued to trade baskets. FEU’s Kenneth Tuffin then went on to score back-to-back three-pointers at the 6:59 and 6:33 marks, giving the Tamaraws a four point advantage over the Green Archers, 8-4. However, La Salle was able to even the score as Santillan scored a layup and converted two free throws from the stripe at the 6:11 and 5:28 marks, respectively.
With under four minutes left in the quarter, the Tamaraws again converted back-to-back three-pointers through the efforts of Wendell Comboy and Tolentino. The Green Archers then rallied back as Encho Serrano converted two free throws at the stripe, which was then followed by a three-pointer from Mark Dyke at the 1:48 mark. With both teams finding an answer offensively, the first frame ended with the Green Archers trailing the Tamaraws, 22-21.
The second quarter continued with the same intensity as both teams continued to convert their baskets. At the 3:08 mark, as Justine Baltazar was called for an unsportsmanlike foul, Eboña split his free throws. The next offensive act of the Green Archers saw Baltazar redeem himself, as he scored a layup to give his team a three-point lead, 35-32. A determined Eboña then scored back-to-back two-pointers from under the basket. With under a minute left in the first half, Melecio found an open Jollo Go to convert a three-pointer, giving DLSU a two point advantage, 38-36, heading into halftime.
At the half, both teams recorded six turnovers, but it was the Taft-based squad that was able to capitalize as they scored five points, while FEU only made two. However, it was the Tamaraws who dominated the boards as they gathered five more offensive rebounds than the Green Archers, 11-6.
Until the end
The third quarter saw a slow start as both teams failed to score early on. Santillan scored DLSU’s first offensive act when he hit a one handed bucket at the 8:03 mark. FEU were hot in the free throw line as Parker and Comboy converted both of their free throws. At the 6:28 mark, Tolentino did not hesitate as he stole the ball from Samuel and converted a layup. With valiant efforts in the offense, Brandon Bates drew a foul and split his free throws at the 5:37 mark. Melecio added to the offensive rally as he scored a layup at the 3:50 mark, but Comboy answered back with a three-pointer. The last minutes of the quarter went in favor of FEU as the Green Archers’ foul woes kept getting them to the free throw line, 54-51.
The last ten minutes of the game were not easy as well. Escoto opened the quarter making a layup while drawing a foul to complete a three-point play. At the 8:27 mark, Melecio did not hesitate to hustle as he drew a foul to split his free throws. Afterwards, Montalbo sunk both of his free throws thereafter. Hubert Cani then regained momentum for FEU and hit a reverse layup at the 7:23 mark. The affair was back-and-forth as Santillan drove to the right side to draw a foul and hit both free throws to cut FEU’s lead down to three, 59-56. Montalbo then recreated the play and hit both free throws at the 6:40 mark.
The offensive drought for both teams lasted a minute before Melecio drew a foul to make both free throws at the 5:22 mark. Crunch time was nearing, but that did not stop the Green Archers’ momentum. Santillan drew a foul from Prince Orizu and hit both free throws at the 4:30 mark to regain the lead for the Green-and-White, 62-60. Right after the play, Eboña then made a layup to bring the game back to stalemate.
With both teams in penalty trouble, Eboña drew a foul from Bates at the 3:17 mark but failed to secure free throws. With 2:45 left on the clock, Melecio hit a fearless jumper. Santillan drove an open lane and hit a layup to extend the Green Archers’ lead up to four, 68-64, two minutes remained in the quarter. FEU was not yet done as Parker drew a foul under the basket and cut La Salle’s lead by two with 1:22 left at the clock. Melecio’s heroics brought the lead back to four as he made a layup with just 50 seconds left to play. Tuffin came back with a clutch two with almost twenty seconds left and allowed Tolentino to hit a three-pointer which would then seal the win for the FEU Tamaraws.
After losing to the FEU Tamaraws, the Green Archers will miss the Final Four for the first time since 2015. After the game, team captain Kib Montalbo described his journey as one hell of a roller coaster ride. “Wildest dream. Yeah, I am here. I am grateful for the University, grateful to the coaches, grateful to the bosses, managers, everything. And yeah, I’m just thankful I gave back everything naman.”
DLSU 70 – Santillan 20, Melecio 9, Caracut 9, Montalbo 7, Baltazar 6, Manuel 5, Samuel 4, Dyke 3, Go 3, Bates 2, Serrano 2
FEU 71 – Tolentino 15, Eboña 12, Tuffin 11, Escoto 10, Comboy 8, Parker 7, Iñigo 5, Cani 2, Orizu 1, Bienes 0, Gonzales 0, Stockton 0
Quarter scores: 21-22, 38-36, 51-54, 70-71